By Allergen Bureau

Full ingredient labelling to improve safety of packaged foods in UK

At a public meeting earlier in May, the Board of the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) agreed that full ingredient labelling should be made mandatory for all pre-packed food available for direct sale to consumers.

The FSA agrees that such measures would deliver significant improvements for food allergic consumers, and that following the same labelling system found on packaged food would provide greater consistency for consumers.

‘Prepacked foods for direct sale’ are foods that have been packed on the same premises from which they are being sold. For example, a packaged sandwich or salad made by staff earlier in the day and placed on a shelf for purchase.

Currently, these foods are not required to carry ingredient labels and allergen information as it is expected that the customer can speak with the person who made or packed the product for this information.

In a digital recording of part of the meeting, the Food Standards Agency Chair, Heather Hancock summarises the Board’s recommendations (and reservations) and highlights many of the challenges and risks that full ingredient labelling requirements may introduce to the sector, in particular for small businesses.

In light of these issues, the FSA Board agreed that they and other parts of government should work together on a range of initiatives to promote and accelerate the sharing of best practice across the industry and improve allergen awareness in businesses and the public.

Ahead of any government decisions about new allergen labelling requirements, UK sandwich chain Pret a Manger (‘Pret’) has acted on the recommendations of the coronial enquiry into the allergen-related death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died from a severe allergic reaction after eating a Pret baguette that contained undeclared sesame.

The company has introduced full ingredient labelling in at least 20 London sites, and will continue to roll out these changes over the coming months. Alongside full and clear labelling, Pret is adopting a five-point plan that includes the introduction of digital tablets with full ingredient listings, the changing of 70 recipes to remove unnecessary allergens, the public sharing of quarterly incident updates and developments to its allergy training programme.

See The Guardian newspaper for more on Pret’s response to the coronial enquiry.